Looking for Laurie Lee (2): Slad and Stroud

So this time it was my turn to go in search of Laurie Lee,  on foot, in the company of our local U3A walking group, who welcomed me warmly on my first outing with them and provided excellent company along the way. Of course not all of these seasoned ramblers  were interested in the literary connections of the Slad Valley, so three cheers for our leader Lynne who decided that poetry would be part of the day and invited us all to take a turn reading the poems on the trail.

Slad poetry trail

Poetry in the landscape

I was first up and  found myself reading Equinox , an autumnal reflection (in keeping with the weather!) which made for a sobering start:

Time when the gourd upon the ground
Cracks open kernel or decay
Indifferent to man or worm

The poems are cunningly etched onto perspex windows on the wayside posts so that you seem to read them through the the backdrop of forest, meadow and sky. I think we were all surprised at how many of the poems  had an elegiac quality but all of them – including my favourite Home from Abroad – were a wonderful celebration of the landscape around us.  For those who were interested – and there were some Lee fans amongst us – I also provided an enthusiastic review of Paul Murphy’s book!


“My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows”

If you decide to do this walk, allow four hours unless unlike me you are a seasoned yomper or can do without pit stops,  and make sure you have the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust map. There’s also a nice description of the whole route with some great photos on the Cotswold Life website.

Black book cafe

A cinema? a launderette? Woop, it’s a cafe!

Of course we should have finished up at the Woolpack, Laurie Lee’s local pub, but that wasn’t part of the plan and I was already overdue for a meeting with John Holland, writer and organiser of Stroud Short Stories, which turned into a whistlestop conversational tour of writing, performing and previous lives.  All highly enjoyable! But the principal outcome was bringing home a copy of the new Stroud Short Stories anthology, a chance to read many writers for the first time and to ‘listen again’ to the brilliant contributions from Alice Jolly, Nimue Brown, Andrew Stevenson,  Joe Eurell and the others who read with me  last November.

Stroud anthology

What better proof  is there,if we needed it,  that literature in all its forms is is still very much part of the Gloucestershire landscape?

Looking for Laurie Lee

Laurie Lee coverWe’ve all read  Cider with Rosie, haven’t we? Well I certainly remember bits of it featuring in O Level English circa 1968 and watching at least two episodes of a TV adaptation. I also remember picking up a copy of I Walked Out some years later, probably on account of its poetic title but not progressing very far with it. Since moving south I’ve also been aware of the comparative closeness of Slad (although it turns out I was wrong about exactly how close or even in what direction!)

murphybookSo my knowledge of Lee has been at best impressionistic and sadly lacking in the details of his life or his writing, but my ignorance is now being  addressed thanks to Paul Murphy, whom I met last month in Hawkesbury Upton, and whose book I Walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee is not just an account of Lee’s life but also of Paul’s own more recent  journey  along the  roads Lee traveled in Spain  in the 1930s.

Written in the wake of the breakdown of Murphy’s  marriage (also the reason for the journey) it’s a reflective and introspective book.  It invests Northern Spain with just as much atmosphere as Lee gave to Slad, but Paul is also a scholar and brings Spain’s  recent history into sharp perspective, reminding us that  the Civil War was not just  the romantic adventure that spawned For Whom the Bell Tolls and how even in present day Spain, Franco’s legacy is never far away.

Paul Murphy uses Lee’s journey to tell his own story and vice versa, and he is at pains to say this is creative non-fiction rather than a straight factual account. But every biographer (not that Murphy claims this mantle) will see his subject through his own experience and the two stories really are complementary, with each throwing light on the other  (rather in the way Edmund de Waal interlaces his own  and his family’s story in The Hare with the Amber Eyes). By the end of this book I’ll have learned not just about two men but about how all of us deal with the emotional highs and lows of life.  You might also be interested in this touching addition to Paul’s story.

Poetry on the Laurie Lee trail

Poetry on the Laurie Lee trail

Despite my new appreciation of Lee, I’m not sure that I’m going to rush out and read him straight away, but guess what?  Our local U3A has a trip scheduled to the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way (managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) early next month. What a great way to round off my Lee season.

It should be a great opportunity to  soak up the Lee ambience (and poetry) in the place he  immortalised.

And I’ll finally know exactly where it is.



Jane Davis introduces Women Writing Women (don’t miss a bargain!)

I Stopped TimeI first came across Jane Davis when someone in the local Historical Novel Society tipped me off about her I Stopped Time, a fascinating account of life and photography in Brighton in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but Jane is also a contemporary novelist. Her first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and afterwards she was featured her in the Bookseller’s ‘One to Watch’ section. She has since published five further novels.  I’ve recently read  An Unchoreographed Life (reviewed here) which I acquired as part of a Kindle ‘box set’ which Jane and six other members of the Alliance of Independent Authors collaborated to produce. The result is Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, seven novels (details below) under one wrapper, all for £7.99. In fact the set is a limited offer, available only until May 23rd and so I’ve asked Jane along to talk about the project before the deal runs out.



Why was taking part in this project so important to you and what were the ideas behind it?
The challenge for indies is connecting book and reader. That’s why collections like Outside the Box: Women Writing Women work so well. We know that readers are struggling to find their next read, one that will entertain, challenge and inspire them. Choice can be overwhelming and so it’s easier to stick to the authors we already know. I’m the same!  So, yes, we asked readers to trust us, but we also offered them a great deal: seven novels for the price of two. Added to this – as if further encouragement were needed – we tried to make it fun. Joni Rodger’s daughter (Jerusha Rodgers of Rabid Badger Editing) created a fabulous digital swag bag that includes a critically acclaimed novel by Joni, a free music album download by Jessica Bell and a heap of other fun and artsy surprises. Anyone who sends us proof of purchase gets entered in a draw to win one of them. (Oh, I didn’t know about this!  Ed)

How did you decide who to collaborate with?
Obviously, it was important to find others who shared the same values and aims, but we were fans of each others’ fiction before we came together as a team. A review described Roz Morris’s My Memories of a Future Life as a ‘strange and stubborn’ novel. Immediately, I wanted that book, and I lapped it up! We also felt it was important that no two books should be too alike, but they needed to have enough in common to appeal to the same target market. Our decision was to focus on our characters and the boundary-breaking nature of our fiction.

The fact that you’re an all female group is difficult to ignore.
It is, although this was completely unintentional. None of us write purely for women. Personally, I share Joanne Harris’s view that ‘women’s fiction’ isn’t a genre. All it does is reinforce the idea that books written by women are not for men. At a time when bookshops have been asked to do away with ‘boys’ fiction’ and ‘girls’ fiction’, this category seems highly inappropriate. We do know that women read books written by both men and women and that men tend to only read books written by men. Or do they? The twist in this tale is that two of our authors ghost for male writers!

What are your hopes for the box-set?
The box set has just entered its final month. I feel a little sad about that, but we decided to create something that was a genuine limited edition. After the 23rd May, it will disappear. So the project was never all about the money.
Speaking for myself, I wanted to change readers’ perception of self-published fiction, particularly those who have been fed the line that it is the preserve of amateurs. (I know I was). And yet when I explored the option for myself, I discovered a diverse group, including authors who had walked away from six-figure deals, established authors who’d been dropped by their publishers after their latest book didn’t sell quite so well, talented newcomers building a readership, innovative authors whose work doesn’t fit the market, cross-genre authors who sell themselves as a brand and best-selling authors who have never tried the traditional route. In fact, in a recent survey of over 2,500 authors, a quarter of those who had traditional deals had also self-published. There is a new breed of hybrid authors who look at each writing project and decide if it is one to submit to their publisher or one to go it alone. My belief is that the predicted growth in self-publishing will now come from authors who are currently under contract.

Are there any downsides to offering a ‘limited edition’?
Yes. We realise that it’s a huge ask to get people to review a 7-novel box-set within a 90-day period. For many people, this represents 6 months’ worth of reading. But all of our work has been reviewed extensively and so we hope readers will hop over the individual book details.

What will you take away from the experience?
I’ve learned such a lot from being part of this amazing group of writers. Really, I have such admiration for them. As self-publishers, we’ve all had to acquire skillsets that go above and beyond those of the average author: cover design, website design, interior layout, video production, PR, the list goes on. I have learned a huge amount about marketing and production, lessons that I’ll be able to carry forwards when our 90 days is done. And promotion in a group certainly gives you more courage. While encouraging others to step outside their comfort zones and to take risk on us, we’ve also had to – and the response has been incredible.

Thank you, Jane! I’ve now read another of the box set The Centauress by Kathleen Jones and found it just as absorbing as An Unchoreographed Life although in a completely different way. I’m really looking forward to the others in the collection. Everyone please check out the links below and don’t forget you only have until May 23rd to snap up this great offer. (I’m now off to enter the digital swag bag competition!)

What’s inside Women Writing Women?

BLUE MERCY by Orna Ross, “A complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery — and surprise…John McGahern meets Maeve Binchy.” IRISH INDEPENDENT

CRAZY FOR TRYING by Joni Rodgers, “Refreshing and provocative… Think Jane Eyre with rock and roll.”  HOUSTON PRESS

MY MEMORIES OF A FUTURE LIFE by Roz Morris, “Absolutely gripping…Visual and visceral, original and odd.” FOR BOOKS SAKE

THE CENTAURESS by Kathleen Jones, “A compelling narrative of a writer’s passion for her work.” HELEN DUNMORE

AN UNCHOREOGRAPHED LIFE by Jane Davis, “An extraordinary level of emotion… superb storytelling.” THE CULT DEN

ONE NIGHT AT THE JACARANDA by Carol Cooper, “Sassy and classy in equal measures. A must.” DR. PIXIE MCKENNA, media doctor and TV presenter

WHITE LADY by Jessica Bell, “Edgy, pacy, and chillingly real.”  JJ MARSH, author of The Beatrice Stubbs series

Website http://www.womenwritewomen.com/









Links to Buy:
Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Outside-Box-Women-Writing-ebook/dp/B00S35A90U/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1429891112&sr=1-1&keywords=Outside+the+Box
Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/product-reviews/B00S35A90U/ref=cm_cr_dp_syn_footer?k=Outside%20the%20Box%3A%20Women%20Writing%20Women&showViewpoints=1

Jane Davis

Jane Davis

To find out more about Jane Davis:

Visit her website: www.jane-davis.co.uk and subscribe to her blog
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Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/janerossdale
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Not writing, still breathing

I’m sure I saw someone say over on Facebook that writing is like breathing, i.e. necessary to life. And up to a few months ago I would have agreed. Regardless of the intrusion of life events (and often because of just that!) writing was the ‘go to’ place, and thinking about writing was the default state of mind.
However back in January a funny thing happened. I just couldn’t write any more. At first I thought it was just the novel I was writing, from which my brain surely needed a break, but even having put that (and my M.A.) aside, and considered a couple of other projects, I discovered there was nothing else I actually wanted or needed to say. It was peculiar, it was unthinkable.

Knitting, not writing
Not drowning but knitting

Apart from the general disruption to life, I was seriously concerned for my sanity, in fact my entire physical and mental well-being. How would I survive? Well all  I can say is that three months down the line, I am getting from day to day in somewhat better shape than I was before my flight from writing. I am waving, not drowning and certainly still alive.

But what now? A new writing adventure (non-fiction, memoir, editing)?  Or is the next adventure not to write? I’m certainly not rushing into enything just yet but before I rename this blog The Joy of Golf (been there done that) or Knitting tips: how not to drop a stitch while watching Poldark I’m going to carry on a bit longer and give space to some of the writing friends whose efforts deserve support.

Stroud anthology
Guaranteed awesome

First of all,  there’s good news from Stroud Short Stories, who in a break from tradition are publishing the work read at their great short story nights. Yes, this includes mine, but also another 70 + stories from over 50 authors.
If the ones I heard are anything to go by this collection is guaranteed to be awesome. Big thanks to Nimue Brown who has shouldered the considerable work of putting the collection together and all that it entails.

The anthology is being launched on Friday in Stroud where copies will be on sale or you can order via Lulu.

janedportraitMy first guest of the new season is  Jane Davis, an author whose books – and energy! – I really admire and who will be talking later this week about Women Writing Women, an intriguing indie publishing venture.

So, as ever, watch this space!

Local Litfest: it can be done!

Debbie Young with Katie Fforde

Debbie Young with Katie Fforde

Having detached myself from the writing process and even the writing world for a month or two, I had no hesitation in dipping my toe back in the waters by helping at Hawkesbury Upton Litfest, organised by the Indefatigable (that’s a Homeric epithet by the way) Debbie Young in the Fox Inn.  And I wasn’t in the least suprised that the whole event went swimmingly. So here’s my report from the sidelines.

Because Debbie wanted to let as many writers as possible take the stage, the evening was mainly in in two ‘strands’ with discussion panels (fiction and non-fiction) in the main auditorium (aka skittle alley!) and additional readings in a side r00m. We also had the use of a big tent, oops, small marquee for the earlier part of the evening, which in view of the gorgeous weather (more IDY magic) was a real bonus. Arriving at 4pm to lend a hand, I had time to sun myself in a few moments of happy seclusion as well as helping put out the chairs and shuffle things around on the increasingly crowded bookstall. Then there was the added pleasure of a lovely Italian meal with friends old and new before things really got going.

Lots of people, nicely arranged chairs

Lots of people, nicely arranged chairs

I kicked off the pre-festival readings but once things were under way I was happier hovering in the wings, unless you count a bit of compering (with help from  John and Caro – thanks again) which was a great way to learn more about authors who had come from as far as Oxford, London and (on the day) Madrid!

murphybookUnfortunately in all the coming and going I didn’t give as much attention to as many readings or discussions as I woud have liked, but I particularly enjoyed the non-fiction session and a highlight was  Paul Murphy’s  ‘As I Walked Out Through Spain …‘  beautiful writing as well as a labour of love.  If you want a reminder of all of those who contributed, check the festival website.

Of course there were some practical problems, mainly because of the huge turn-out (I hope someone was counting) which made speakers difficult to hear for anyone who couldn’t get a seat. (Microphones next year?)   Similarly the bookstall was difficult to access and we probably should have thought about how to accommodate an audience (!) as well as the line-up of readers in the smaller reading areas.  But needing more time and more space is a symptom of success!

So how did she do it? I mean not just sign up such big names as Katie Ffforde and Orna Ross, but also offer a showcase to a  gamut of lesser-known writers and persuade most of the local population to come along? Never mind how, the point is that  it can be done, and I have no doubt this event will go from strength to strength. An anthology is already promised as pre-publicity for next year.

Here’s to Hawkesbury and local festivals everywhere. Here’s to the indefatigable Debbies of this world!


Hay or Hawkesbury? Small is beautiful – and free!

I don’t really have a problem with big literature festivals and have heard some fine and famous writers hold forth in Bath, Cheltenham and elsewhere. Two years ago I even made the pilgrimage to Hay on Wye, some would say the Daddy of them all. It took two hours , it rained a lot, I had a nice lunch with friends then walked to a big tent where I sat with many other people while it rained some more. I decided not to get a book signed or to buy anything else from the the book or gift shops. I spotted no celebs (possibly they had seen the weather forecast.) Driving home took another two hours. In the rain.

Nathan Filer in Yate

Nathan Filer in Yate

Well at least I can say that ‘ I was there’.  But I can think of lots of other smaller events which have been much more fun. Taking tea with Wendy Cope in Corsham was pretty good.
Hearing Nathan Filer in Yate Library was absolutely ace.
And now that I think of it, Kate Atkinson (my heroine!) and Barbara Trapido have both appeared in South Gos libraries over the last few years, practically on my doorstep. So unless you actually want to see more of people who are on the box every other night, you don’t have to travel miles (or pay a hefty ticket price) to get down with the writers.

Debbie Young

Debbie Young

Speaking of which, did I mention Hawkesbury Upton? The indefatigable Debbie Young (who visited this blog a while back) has organised a new local book event – the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival – which kicks off this Thursday evening to coincide with World Book Night where our  very own celeb Katie Fforde is taking part along with a host of writers including prize-winning poet Shirley Wright and independent authors’ champion Orna Ross. In the last few weeks the programme has been snowballing and now even the the local Waitrose has stumped up with sponsorship.

The Fox Inn, Hawkesbury Upton

Fox Inn, Hawkesbury Upton


Shall I say that again? There is no charge! And for early birds there will be refreshments and a goody bag too.

It starts at 7 pm in the Fox Inn. Come early to be sure of a seat.
I’ll be there from 6pm sampling the Italian restaurant menu and meeting up with some old friends.

Why not join us?



Stroud Short Stories – submissions open

stroud short stories

submissions open for April

It seems no time since I was up in Stroud at the Short Story event last October and telling you all how great it was. The good news is that submissions are open  for the next event on April 19th, with a deadline of March 21st.

All the rules and regulations are on the Stroud Short Stories website. As an October ‘winner’ I’m not allowed to enter this time and even if that’s a bit of a disappointment I do think it’s a really good policy to avoid the same people hogging the limelight which sometimes happens at events like this.

On the other hand the good people of SSS have decided to publish an anthology of the September and April performances – a great  way of celebrating – and showing off! – what we did. Details still in the pipeline

If you want to bag a ticket for April 19th they’re not on sale yet, but I’ll let you know when they are. I’m definitely hoping to be there.